Glasgow FF 2021

Jumbo review – unconventional romance makes for a thrilling ride

Portrait of a Lady on Fire breakout Noémie Merlant plays a young woman who falls in love with an amusement park attraction

The titular heartthrob at the centre of Jumbo is a broad, towering figure. He has a sturdy frame, strong limbs, and the innate ability to light up the screen. He is, of course, a Tilt-A-Whirl ride, but Zoé Wittock’s otherworldly romance is packed with so much sincerity and empathy that it succeeds in portraying Jumbo as more than just a hunk of metal.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire breakout Noémie Merlant stars as the other half of this unusual relationship. Jeanne is a shy and curious woman whose night shifts at a run-down Belgian theme park become covert dates with the amusement ride that’s caught her eye. The first flirtations between the two are imbued with almost child-like wonder. Jumbo communicates by blinking his lights, and at one point, in an act of mechanical chivalry, even lowers his arm to the ground to save Jeanne from an accident.

Jeanne and Jumbo's interactions are delightfully (and surprisingly) romantic. We’re never told if the ride is actually responding or if all this stems from somewhere in Jeanne’s imagination. Yet it remains so downright magical to watch you’re inclined to believe that the feelings between the pair are really mutual.

With a subject as strange and unexplored as objectophilia, Jeanne’s attraction could’ve so easily been exploited for laughs. But Wittock is incredibly earnest when it comes to understanding this relationship. Most people will approach this film with a morbid fascination: how do you even shoot something this? When their relationship does progress to the physical, it takes a turn to the surreal in an erotic display of bodies and motor oil. By all accounts, Wittock presents Jumbo as a standard romance – just with a splash of mechanical fluids.

Above all, though, this is a film about acceptance. Jeanne’s mother, who she still lives with, is appalled by her daughter’s crush. In their charged arguments, the true message of the film crystallises: what do you do when your children grow up to be different from your expectations? It's also here that Jumbo begins to run out of steam. As it commits to its message of love and acceptance, the film tacks on some clumsy confrontations. A group of brash, juvenile bullies sticks out as a particularly unnecessary inclusion.

Jumbo struggles to find a balance between its duelling fantastical and grounded elements, but Merlant capably anchors both with a sense of wide-eyed curiosity. Just witnessing this actress seducing a metal structure with the same romantic intensity she conveyed in Céline Sciamma’s masterpiece makes for its own thrilling ride.

Jumbo was screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be set. For more festival info, visit our dedicated page. You can buy tickets here.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

The Father review – Anthony Hopkins delivers a tour de force

Florian Zeller's ingenious screen translation of his own stage play offers a terrifying insight into the realities of living with dementia

Red Moon Tide review – Spanish coastal tale is dripping with mood

This slow and ambiguous debut from filmmaker Lois Patiño, set in a tiny Galician village, makes for one strange and unsettling trip

Ride or Die review – manga adaptation fails to find its feet

A promising lead performance isn’t enough to save this muddled and over-sexualised queer thriller from filmmaker Ryūichi Hiroki

Love and Monsters review – sweet and uncynical apocalypse adventure

Dylan O'Brien is brilliantly cast in this fun if somewhat forgettable romp, set in a world where giant creatures wreak havoc


Be Blown Away (and Baffled) By the Trailer for Leos Carax’s Annette

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard co-star in an original movie musical, which is set to open the 74th Cannes Film Festival

Best Films to Stream This Week in the UK

With cinemas still closed, we highlight the best new streaming releases, from Oscar nominees to a monster romance

Stream With a Theme: The Best Time Loop Films

To mark the arrival of Palm Springs on Prime Video, we highlight the cinematic time loops worth putting on repeat...

Angelina Jolie Fights Fire (and Assassins) In the Trailer For Those Who Wish Me Dead

The new film from Sicario director Taylor Sheridan centres on a fire warden who must help a young boy escape ruthless killers